explore america by car
14 Great Driving Roads Just Outside America’s Biggest Cities
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Vacation will all but certainly mean something different this summer. Restrictions that have kept people cooped up indoors or near home are likely to lift, enabling everyone to express their pent-up desire to travel — which means Americans may be more pumped to get away from home than ever before.
Getting on a plane to travel somewhere, however, may not be a popular activity anytime in the near future. (The New York Times, notably, recently suspended the print edition of its Travel section.) For many, this year’s summer exploration will happen by car — and will occur within a reasonable distance of where they live.
With that in mind, here are some of the best driving roads to be found outside America’s major metropolitan areas.
New York -– Taconic State Parkway
New York City may often seem gray, dense and dirty. But it’s adjacent to some of the most breathtaking forests in the world. The Taconic State Parkway cuts through much of it; plus, it’s considered a masterpiece of highway design, packing 104 miles of winding road and Hudson River Valley vistas. Get there at the right time, and you may even miss the traffic.
Los Angeles –- Pacific Coast Highway
It’s hard to find a really bad driving road outside Los Angeles. The tough part is getting out of the populated, heavily trafficked areas without giving up in despair. We recommend heading west toward Malibu on the PCH, then keeping on going — while occasionally popping up into the canyon roads alongside.
Chicago –- Wisconsin Highway 42
Chicago offers little to engage driving enthusiasts; there’s a ton of traffic and almost no topography. Wisconsin Highway 42, hugging the north coast of Lake Michigan, is a bit of a hike, but it rewards you with one of the most picturesque stretches of road in the country.
Texas Triangle (Houston-Dallas-San Antonio/Austin) — Willow City Loop
Texas offers some of the most varied landscapes — and best driving roads — anywhere in the country. Most of them are quite distant from major metropolitan areas, but the Willow City Loop west of Austin offers a chance to access some great roads and scenery near the big cities.
Washington D.C. — Blue Ridge Parkway
The Blue Ridge Parkway is known as “America’s Favorite Drive.” It winds for hundreds of miles, offering some of the most awe-inspiring scenery in America. (Though, as Top Gear memorably found out, the speed limit is less than ideal.)
South Florida (Miami) — Overseas Highway
Nature — and common sense — never stopped the residents of Florida. Thus, there’s a 113-mile stretch of highway extending Route 1 out to Key West. The Keys are currently closed to tourists through May, but they are unlikely to be that crowded once they do open up.
Philadelphia — Route 6
Route 6 requires a little bit of a drive to the northern part of the state. But it’s 400-plus miles of winding mountain roads and incredible views make it worth the effort.
Atlanta — The Suches Loop
The Suches Loop is known as Georgia’s (Tail of the) Dragon. It’s 50 miles of twisting roads amidst splendid Blue Ridge Mountain and Chattahoochee National Forest scenery.
Phoenix — State Route 89A
This magnificent highway stretch between Flagstaff and Sedona will show you that Arizona is much more than retirees playing golf.
Boston — Old King’s Highway
New England driving generally involves a lot of scenery and a lot of two-lane highways, the latter usually clogged by a well-worn Subaru driving five miles under the speed limit. You can’t go wrong taking Route 6A to the tip of Cape Cod in Provincetown for the former, though.
San Francisco / Oakland / Silicon Valley — Pacific Coast Highway
Same advice as Los Angeles: it’s hard to go wrong once you’re outside the city. Head south to Big Sur, or head north to Mendocino; either way, it’ll be beautiful and life-affirming.
Inland Empire — Palms to Pines Scenic Byway
Inland Southern California features a lot of different topography. As the name suggests, the Palms to Pines Scenic Byway that starts in Palm Springs provides an excellent survey of it.
Detroit — The Tunnel of Trees
Michigan has some of America’s most stunning coastlines. But, as much as it pains me to write as a longtime east-sider, you have to drive to the western part of the state to see them. The Tunnel of Trees is a 20-mile stretch of M-119 between Harbor Springs and Cross Village that’s worth seeking out.
Seattle — The Cascade Loop
The Cascade Loop is 440 miles that packs pretty much everything Washington has to offer. It’s also loaded with electric vehicle charging points along the route, if you want to do it in an EV.
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